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⚡️ Using non-linearity to create surprise locally

General tactics
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The non-linearity of combat is a concept that is still relevant today for two major reasons: the decrease in the volume of armies and the (provisional?) of a model of war that saw generally symmetrical opponents facing each other who shared the same conception of the decisive battle. Western armies are today engaged in theatres of operations that are either desert and therefore immense where the notion of front no longer makes sense, or facing an asymmetrical enemy that by nature refuses frontal opposition.

Non-linearity is also associated with the concept of gaps in space, which ultimately refers to the same concept, although some nuances could be added. The term gaps implies that complete portions of land are not controlled, either voluntarily because they are of no obvious tactical interest or involuntarily because of a lack of means. However, some armies conscious of the problem have solved this dilemma through the massive use of UAVs, which, when armed, become a de facto means of controlling gaps.

With this in mind, armies must use the return of gaps in space as an asset to become unpredictable again, both in conventional and insurgent warfare.

Accepting non-linearity, accept la surprise

Historically and culturally, the control of land space is the basis of combat, especially in defensive modes of action.

Accepting a hole in the device, not sealing it, is to put oneself in danger of being bypassed, overrun and destroyed, is to accept being surprised. The trauma of Rommel's phantom 7th Division and the myth of the decisive breakthrough is still prevalent at a time when a simple bomber raid would be enough to stop a marching enemy column. This is the fundamental point of this approach, how can I ensure that the surprise is on my side and not that of the adversary?

In the first place we must consider the attitude of the enemy. The latter will in fact be surprised himself, or at least we must do everything to ensure that he is, not to meet anyone, and this will make him hesitate. Examples of successful exploitation exist, but they are as numerous as those of the hesitations of leaders faced with an unplanned advance: to venture into enemy territory without meeting him is to expose oneself to the risk of isolating oneself in turn. This concept is still topical in the age of anti-aircraft protection bubbles and electronic warfare. A modern unit, whatever its size, will be in trouble when it finds itself isolated in the middle of enemy units and cut off from any type of communication with its bases. The enemy may be surprised by our acceptance of the deficient combat.

In the second place, accepting to be surprised by an enemy advance should not be taken in its first direction, otherwise it is to accept failure or defeat. Here, it is appropriate to accept that uncontrolled spaces exist. It is then necessary to adopt a posture of active defense (safety), or rather reactive. The enemy can move easily, take advantage of the shortcomings of the device to appear where it is least expected, but if it is a fact accepted by the command and the troop, then surprise becomes a simple tactical fact. Of course, this requires specific training and large reaction forces, but it also requires thinking about the acceptance of casualties.

In this context, being able to withstand the shock of surprise presupposes above all a higher morale than that of the opponent. It is indeed this moral strength which allows aggressiveness and immediate reactivity, from the lowest tactical level. The example of CENTAC is extremely revealing. In this training camp, the vegetation and the relief very often cause the opponents to overlap: at the level of the fighter or the crew, a real encounter takes place where everyone is surprised. The one who overcomes the surprise the fastest will in most cases be the winner. This instant reactivity can also be improved by technology, which is the main advantage of the SCORPION fight.

Thus, defensive modes of action can also make use of gaps in space for their own benefit. This implies an adaptation of minds and texts, and it also implies thinking of defence as mobile, or rather as less permanent as possible. This principle was adopted for Operation Sentinel, proportionately speaking. While it is certain that the balance of power should no longer be the major parameter deciding on the mode of action in lacunar spaces, the question remains as to what other parameters should be chosen. Technology, moral force, experience?

Rethink lautonomy du command and units

At about the same time that the French Army chose to recreate the divisional level, the Iranian Army made the opposite choice. This might seem trivial or even irrelevant, yet the image of a dictatorial regime refusing change does not apply to its army. Indeed, the Iranian military has a doctrine which it regularly updates as it seeks to adapt quickly to the new threats on its borders. And it must be said that they are rather well served from this point of view. Thus by observing the hybrid combat employed by Daech, they came to the conclusion that this particularly flexible and powerful enemy, manoeuvring in lacunar spaces, needed in response to develop the autonomy of their units. The divisional staffs were then seen as a factor restricting local initiative, which was left to the brigade and especially battalion level (the regiment does not exist).

In France, the emphasis is rather on the subsidiarity of command, which, although it is very real, does not exclude the long process of designing orders at all levels of the hierarchy.1. This subsidiarity is indeed one of the keys to the incomplete fight, because decision-making autonomy makes it possible to create and exploit surprise locally. To do this, it would be necessary to be able to provide level 3 to 5 units with real logistical autonomy, as light as possible, which is still a real technological challenge today. On this point, it is interesting to look at the reflections on combat on the high seas, which is similar in many aspects to the subject. The concept of sea-basing in particular2A temporary or semi-permanent offshore base is one possible solution. But as in land combat, a base must be defended at the very least, its security cannot be based on mobility alone.

This may not be enough, a leader with command autonomy to exploit surprise at his level must also be coordinated. Indeed, using non-linearity to create over-taking is not as simple as that. It will only work optimally if disappointment is thought of at the higher level, coordinating the actions of each subordinate autonomous unit. But at what level does the autonomous unit begin? Company, regiment? It depends primarily on the theater and the enemy.

The fighting for the liberation of Strasbourg in 1944 illustrates several of these concepts. The Leclerc division, through the use of autonomous units, overwhelmed the Germans by accepting the flaws in the system. The instructions were very clear:

"to circumvent the resistances and possibly not to hesitate to modify the prescribed axes", with a single objective, the Kehl bridge. In these battles, it was a question of shoving the adversary, surprising him by the speed and location of the attack, with certain groups taking the German defences from the rear. And each unit had an almost total self-nomination, being hardly coordinated. The result is known, the manner remains impressive today.

The last point on the autonomy of the command concerns intelligence. Intimately linked to surprise, this field is nevertheless one of the most poorly exploited for this purpose. A leader's ability to create surprise obviously depends on his ability to obtain the right information in time, and this is crucial in the fight against the enemy. To this end, sensors must be able to be used by every tactical level up to the group or even team level. Nano-drones are one solution, information is another, and we must continue to make progress in this area, and perhaps rethink the concept and the importance of secrecy.

The preponderance of all-technology has built up the fantasy of predetermination of manoeuvre and control of surprise. But it must be noted that it will never be nothing of it because one will never know the intention of the adversary: it is the principle of the chess game where the surprise exists whereas the location of the pawns and their capacities are known.

Surprise will always be present in war. By accepting non-linearity, i.e. by preparing for it doctrinally and structurally, the Army will in fact give back a primordial place to surprise.

1 The order of operation for the recapture of Paris by the 2nd AD is cited as an example, but it has indeed been replaced by orders of imposing size. Thus the operation order proposed for the tactics test of the War School competition in 2016 reaches 20 pages, and it is also a divisional level order.

2 Bruno PAULMIER, "La manœuvre navale", in Guerre et Manœuvre, Paris, Economica 2009.

Title : ⚡️ Using non-linearity to create surprise locally
Author (s) : le chef de bataillon Sébastien Lemee